Predator & Prey – Interview with Van Helsing’s Laura Mennell
From the will-bending Nina Theroux in Alphas, to the otherworldly Dr. Charlotte Cross in Haven, and prosecuting attorney Samantha Turner in Motive, Laura Mennell always manages to captivate as well as entertain audiences with her varied and multi-layered performances. She is doing so yet again in her current role as the seductive, cunning and bloodthirsty vampire Rebecca in Van Helsing. The Canadian-born actress’s sharp-toothed TV alter ego has very wisely secured a place for herself at the top of her kind’s food chain in an apocalyptic world where vampires have taken over and are using what remains of humanity to sustain themselves as well as satisfy their other dark and twisted desires. For Mennell, both the show (which was recently renewed for a second season) and the character were as irresistible as blood types A, B or O are to Rebecca.
“I first heard about Val Helsing when asked to audition for the character of Rebecca, but then I began to learn more about the series and thought there was so much potential with it,” notes Mennell. “Neil LeBute was attached to the show [as creator/executive producer], and he’s done so many amazing projects, including [the 2001 feature film] The Shape of Things, which I personally love. There’s such interesting subtext to his writing and you have people playing games with each other, both of which add a tremendous amount of depth to a story. Van Helsing is so different from his other work, and I just thought that Neil would be able to put a new spin on the whole vampire genre.
“That alone was pretty much a good reason for me to want to become involved with the show, and I also felt that the role of Rebecca would be such fun as well as out of the ordinary for me. Quite frankly, I loved the idea of doing something a lot darker and edgier. That’s the joy of being an actor – you get to try new things. I had played a vampire before, which was great, but it was more of a Victorian, romanticized and traditional version. So I was excited to see Val Helsing was breaking the mold and aiming for something far grittier and raw. That’s a big part of why I decided to jump onboard.”
In Van Helsing’s series opener, Help Me, which is set in 2019, it has been three years since “The Rising,” when Earth was overrun by vampires following a volcanic eruption at Yellowstone that released black ash into the atmosphere and filtered out most of the sunlight. Hidden away inside a barricaded hospital and kept under guard, Vanessa Van Helsing (Kelly Overton), a single mother and descendant of the world’s most famous of all vampire hunters, suddenly wakes from a coma. Despite suffering major blood loss and life-threatening wounds – the result of a vampire attack in 2016 – she now appears to be completely healed. Unbeknownst to Vanessa, her blood not only increases her body’s natural regenerative abilities, but can also transform a vampire back into a human. News of her existence reaches the local vampire broods, including one led by Dimitri (Paul Johansson), a powerful and influential bloodsucker who, along with his cohort Rebecca, wants to know more about this potential threat to their future. Mennell had quite a memorable introduction to the show’s post-apocalyptic world as well as her character.
“First of all, I was incredibly impressed by just how accessible and really engaged all the producers were, along with, of course, the rest of the cast as well as crew,” says the actress. “Here was an easygoing group of professionals who all loved this project and were genuinely working hard to make it happen, which is another reason why it was so great to find out that the show had been picked up for another season. As far as my first day on-set, the first scene I shot was the one where Rebecca devours the poor young man in her vampire lair. So I wasn’t really given much of a chance to sort of gently and leisurely dip my toe into this new world. I pretty much jumped into the deep end with everyone else from the moment I started, and we ended up having a lot of weird and yet darkly wonderful fun.
“When it comes to my character, Rebecca is very fierce, displays oddly animalistic tendencies, and can be seductive in order to have her needs met. Rebecca is also obsessive about maintaining her own hierarchical position in the vampire order, and to do so, she must constantly appease Dimitri. That’s kind of her in a nutshell. Acting-wise, I guess one of the challenges for me when initially stepping into this role was rationalizing, if you can, those bloody moments when vampires go in for the kill. I wanted to wrap my head around that a little bit more in a creative way to better feed my imagination when playing her.
“So I did some research on animals when they hunt and what’s called their prey drive. That’s when things started to click for me. I mean, my little cat is normally the sweetest guy in the world, but I’ve watched as he suddenly becomes transfixed when his hardwired predatory habits take over. Being a vegetarian, I have some horrible memories of seeing him behave that way, but that was also oddly helpful to me in getting into my character’s headspace at the beginning of the season. Rebecca exhibits some pretty strange vampiric behavior and she’ll definitely maintain quite a dark and bizarre presence throughout the season.”
While Dimitri and Rebecca are both equally interested in finding Vanessa and learning more about her, they may not be in total agreement as to why this is so vital to them and their kind. “There is no denying that Dimitri is the ringleader,” says Mennell. “He’s been around longer than anyone, and I’ve always felt that he sought out Rebecca and groomed her for the position she’s in today. Yes, she’s clearly in a power position because of him, but Rebecca is also a cunning and strong vampire who’s proven that she owns that position.
“So their relationship is a fascinating one, and I think it’s also fun to watch as they search for Vanessa. This mysterious woman is almost like a human/vampire hybrid, although obviously more human, and the mere thought of someone who can to turn vampires back into humans is amazing. Now, you would assume that she would be seen simply as a threat, but I thought it was interesting when Rebecca said that Vanessa could, in fact, be their future. My character is trying to convince Dimitri that this woman could be the key to maintaining or heightening the vampires’ existence to wherever they go from here. So Vanessa could be of great worth to them, and I think it’s going to be an interesting ride for the audience to see where Rebecca and Dimitri go when it comes to Vanessa.”
With Van Helsing’s season one finale still weeks away, is there anything spoiler-free that Mennell can reveal about what fans can look forward to? “The season finale is incredible and Kelly Overton is just fantastic in it,” enthuses the actress. “She’s the perfect kickass heroine and I love to watch her work. There’s a great deal of action in this episode and I think the fans are going to love it. We have an awesome stunt coordinator, Kimani Ray Smith, and he really outdid himself with this one. His work shines throughout the whole season, but what Kimani put together for the season finale is fantastic. Again, it’s such a great episode and pretty epic.”
Besides Van Helsing, the actress can be seen in an upcoming episode of the new Sci-Fi series Travelers (currently airing on Canada’s Showcase Network and coming to the States this December on Netflix) as well as the crime drama/documentary series Real Detective. “I loved working on Travelers, and Eric McCormack [FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren] is a lovely man,” says Mennell. “He’s the real deal and so much fun to work with as well as a nice person to be around. The rest of the cast as well as the crew on Travelers are amazing, too. I can’t give away too much about my character, but I play a lawyer in the episode, and a pretty tough one at that.
“With Real Detective, I have a huge guest-star part in it, and I had the pleasure of working on that show up in Montreal with Anthony Lemke, a really great guy who you probably know from Dark Matter [as Three/Marcus Boone]. The episode was directed by Michel Poulette, an extremely well-known Quebec director who’s fantastic to work with as well. The show was quite an interesting as well as unusual one to shoot because you’re reenacting real-life cases. In this episode, it was the case of Tammy Armstrong, who killed her boyfriend John Maier. You’re only given so much information to work with; you know the general facts of the case and some things got quite detailed, but, for example, I never had any footage of her. Certain things like that were just not accessible, but that didn’t make the work any less enjoyable and I’m curious to see how it turned out.”